R. J. Mitchell didn’t have a direct personal connexion with Hornchurch but in an imaginative gesture his genius is acknowledged by the school named after him. The incredibly courageous RAF pilots who flew out of Hornchurch flew in Supermarine Spitfires, which Mitchell designed. The Spitfire was so advanced and capable as a fighter plane it made victory over the Luftwaffe possible.Mitchell’s Spitfire designs were a crucial contribution to victory by ‘The Few’.Hornchurch is indelibly identified with the battle of Britain, the Spitfire and R. J. Mitchell.
The school concludes their brief history of the period by saying,
“We do not seek to glorify war, but to remember the sacrifice of brave people in extraordinary circumstances.”
The school reflects the community by honouring the RAF ‘aces’ of the Battle of Britain. This bonds the school with their community. Many of the school’s students come from streets named after fighter ‘aces’ in the immediate area. The school is located in a place which memorialises those fateful years.
Each passing year pushes those existential days further into the mists of history. So does it matter?
History does matter as it gives a sense of place and identity. The rich heritage that is celebrated by R. J. Mitchell School isn’t jingoistic. It’s measured, respectful and is to be applauded.
For a quick biography see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._J._Mitchell
For the excellent R J Mitchell School’s celebration of the history of the community see http://www.rjmitchellprimaryschool.com/havering/primary/rjmitchell/site/pages/welcome/historyofourschool
For R J Mitchell School in 2013 see https://www.teachprimary.com/learning_resources/view/outstanding-schools-rj-mitchell-primary
An unusual aspect of the Battle of Britain was the sponsored squadron. RAF Hornchurch had its share of these. A sponsor didn’t pay for specific Spitfires. They contributed an amount, which was the equivalent of the cost. The RAF then designated a squadron’s number with the name in brackets. Sponsored squadrons reflected the patriotic feelings of British cities and countries in the Empire. India, which was in the throes of Gandhi’s Quit India movement, contributed a great deal towards the defence of Britain.
Eleven squadrons served in Hornchurch during the war. ‘The Few’ flew from Hornchurch and suffered many casualties whilst defeating the Luftwaffe. Less well known was the international financial support Britain received in this crucial battle. Of Hornchurch’s eleven squadrons, seven were sponsored from across the Empire and Britain (see Addendum).
Financial resources were provided in a great world-wide rush of good feeling towards Britain and were very important to our ultimate victory. This is an unglamorous but important aspect of the Battle of Britain. Nazi Germany’s repulsive government provoked fear, not respect, and these sponsored squadrons demonstrate this truth vividly.
Addendum: sponsored squadrons
Squadron 74 (Trinidad)
Squadron 122 (Bombay)
Squadron 222 (Natal)
Squadron 264 (Madras Presidency)
Squadron 266 (Rhodesia)
Squadron 600 (City of London)
Squadron 603 (City of Edinburgh)
For Hornchurch’s Battle of Britain squadrons and casualties see http://www.rafhornchurch.thehumanjourney.net/squadrons.htm
For a list of RAF Hornchurch squadrons see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAF_Hornchurch
For a critical analysis of ‘The Few’ in the battle of Britain see https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/the-few-who-saved-britain-were-even-fewer-than-everyone-thought-5369212.html
For Squadron 74’s WW2 service history see http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/RAF/74_wwII.html